Category Archives: Social Norms

The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

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The Lonely Middle Years of Parenting

Parenting kids in middle and high school is such a complicated and lonely space to be in. When our kids are little we tend to share a lot about them. Holiday cards, social media posts, small playgroups, sports teams and parent clubs. The little cherubs happily pose for the camera without a whiff of self consciousness.

Somewhere around 5th grade things start to shift. The kids no longer want you to go public with what you think is cute. Concerns about privacy, social status and damage control start to creep into your thoughts. The kids disappear from your social media feed and you keep things under lock and key. The difficult stuff is whispered to your closest friends, a very limited set of eyes and ears. Even with those confidants the experiences are exhausting and isolating at times.

I’ve had days this past month that have absolutely gutted me. Pain for my child which housed a kaleidoscope of emotions; profound sadness, love, pit of my stomach fear, impatience and resignation. Fortunately the low points have been transient, replaced with more hopeful experiences, it goes in and out like the tide. I can only imagine the despair of families that reside in the muck for extended periods of time. I’m sure those parents are around me, they just aren’t talking about it.

The why of the reasons for not discussing things openly are a complicated stew of ego, protection, shame and insecurity. Shame that maybe we failed as a parent somehow – gave too much or too little. We were too involved or not vigilant enough. We haven’t properly adjusted the sails, we hit the gas when we should have braked and now we are spinning out of control.

The first inclination is protection. Protect the child at all costs from labels, embarrassment, bullies, the boogeyman, mistakes or misunderstandings that can negatively impact their future. That’s a tall order and some days I feel so small, minuscule, a speck of dust, insignificant. At this phase in their lives, your kids generally care more about friendships than family, at least temporarily. Another jagged pill to swallow, the person you want to help most in the world doesn’t necessarily want your assistance or your opinion. They will however, happily relieve you of $20. or the car keys when they start to drive.

Insecurity is the ghost that haunts us all whether we care to admit it or not. Insecurity is married to shame maybe not officially but they are at a minimum shacked up together. If I’m honest, this is the piece of parenthood I feared the most before we had kids. Knowing that I would make mistakes as all humans do. I also knew that making mistakes as a parent would cause me intense pain. Mind you I haven’t had colossal failures, just the usual varieties; having a more impatient tone than intended (this is called yelling), being a few months behind on the dental check up, and not being a constant shadow on their social media.

I’m sure some parents and kids skate through this phase without a pimple or a tear shed, I think those are the unicorns. Most of us take a deep breath and remind ourselves to have a friendly tone when we knock on our child’s bedroom door. We worry about over/under scheduling, setting reasonable expectations that neither diminish goals nor create neurotic overachievers. I’m still searching for that sweet spot of challenging my kids so they can bend without breaking.

 

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Far, Far Away

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Far, Far Away

Scene: A middle-aged woman walks into an upscale chain restaurant (is that an oxymoron?).

Me: Hi, I’m meeting a friend for lunch, we would like a table for two.

Host: Do you have a reservation?

Me: (Slowly turns head from right to left and counts 5 patrons on my left hand as I spy with my little eye a dozen or so bored employees standing around) No sir, I do not have a reservation, think you could squeeze us in?

Host: Right this way Miss. (He knows I’m not a Miss but guys in any kind of service industry know better than to say Ma’am to any woman under the age of 80 In New Jersey. Southern friends you get a pass and with that accent you can say Ma’am and no one gets offended however, if you bless my heart, I’ll know we have an issue.)

Me: Super, thanks.

So this friend and I haven’t seen each other in a handful of years. We’re both 50 now, we met when we were 15 and became roommates in an adolescent rehab in Long Branch, New Jersey. You probably would never be able to guess this if you were looking at us from afar, just two humdrum moms or perhaps business associates having lunch. I was wearing nice pants and a chenille sweater (I know, I can’t believe chenille is back in style! I love it until you wash it and then the material disintegrates like makeup melting in the summer sun). My friend wore a cute blazer and a beautiful necklace, we were quite civilized, at least if you were judging us on our apparel.

A friendship that spans more than three decades is equal parts decadent and comforting. There is an easiness and a candor to our conversation which surpasses most friendships. We talked about some awful things yesterday; death, health issues and politics. We shared our inner most feelings about our parents which would surely be met with some shock and disdain by a more casual observer, someone who didn’t know our individual histories. There is nothing casual about this friendship though, we have been in the trenches together and on separate paths, and damn it if we both aren’t frickan’ amazing.

The world was not kind to either one us when we met. She came from a family that looked perfect on the outside and was the stuff of nightmares once you pulled up the rug to take a peek. Her father physically beat her, her mother enabled it and added her own emotional and verbal abuse to the toxic mix. Both of her parents worked full time and lived in a desirable neighborhood in Monmouth County. It was a sprawling suburban oasis which bordered more rural areas. They were the kind of people that would send out a Christmas letter which contained a recipe for something delicious while listing the academic achievements of their two children. The letter would include a photo of all four wearing LL Bean with a festive backdrop. Lies, all lies.

My crazy was less subtle. I came from a broken single parent household with a mother who had stopped drinking a few months prior. I didn’t have a tattoo, if I did it would just be three letters – FTW. I was writing that on everything jeans, notebooks, walls, this was in the 80s so I feel like I should get partial credit for the rise of WTF, but I digress. I was a hot little mess and there was no mistaking me for the future Homecoming Queen. I was goth before goth was a thing and the chip on my shoulder was the size of a flying saucer.

So here I was goth girl with the yuppie who wore Ocean Pacific. We found common ground as we were both taking French at the time and shared a tutor named Maximilian. Max was great. He treated us like we were worthwhile, had a genuine interest in our well being and didn’t try to sleep with us (that was shockingly rare). He was keenly interested (or at least made me believe he was) in my profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry. He even gave me a journal so I would have something special to write my poems in, it was incredibly thoughtful. In return, I introduced him to blueberry Hubba Bubba which may have been the single worst gum ever invented. Max, always the gentleman, accepted this token of my affection as if it was a Parisian gourmet treat.

Sample of profoundly dramatic and somewhat awful poetry:

You can never catch me

I’m never within your reach

you just have to set me free

like the waves on the beach

It was March of 1984 when Genevieve and I crossed paths. It was her first stay and my second. My first introduction to our juvie resort was in October of 1983 when I, by some miracle, actually decided to get sober. I got out in December of 1983 and my mother immediately got remarried. That marriage was incredibly brief and led to a cataclysmic shake up of what was once a family of three – my mother, twin brother and I. Our little family was scattered into the universe – my mother trying to find a safe place to start over, my brother couch surfing with friends and I got sent to a cult farm in upstate New York which claimed to be a recovery halfway house (that’s a book all by itself). I ran away from that place after a month and was basically homeless. The rehab in Long Branch agreed to take me in until I could get into another halfway house (one less cultish, Koolaid optional).

From fifteen until now, so much life has been lived, good and bad times. We used to go to AA meetings and often found ourselves at the same one on Tuesday nights. It was there that I found out that Genevieve went “out” again and used. I was devastated, I sobbed and feared for the worst. We had both been sober a couple of years at this point which was remarkable. We watched the revolving door of recovery enough to know that plenty of people never make it back. She did though, a testament to her own strength. I don’t think I have another recovery in me which is why I have been sober since 1983, I’m pretty sure I would lose myself into a permanent oblivion if I ever “slipped”. Slipped isn’t that a nice word for the potential to destroy your life…moving on.

We got sober as teenagers, we are both living, breathing miracles. We did the stuff that teens do – dated inappropriate guys, most of whom were not worthy of us. I say that looking back at a girl who had no self-esteem and shitty role models. I was the poster child for the fragile no-daddy girl, she hated her father, we were both ripe for bad relationships. She married her worst mistake, I dated mine off and on for 4 agonizing years. In between we commiserated and went out to clubs with big hair, high hopes and short skirts.

She had her first baby when we were 19 and she married a guy that beat her when she was pregnant. I threw her baby shower and saw some suspicious bruises, she never admitted it, but I knew. By the grace of God she left that relationship. She worked and put herself through college while her daughter was a baby and into the toddler years. She became a CPA and made her way up the corporate ladder. She met a nice guy about 25 years ago and they got married and had two children. Her path was slow but steady and she fought tooth and nail for everything she got.

I was in a bad relationship in my early twenties that held me back from my own potential. When it ended, I set up a 5 year plan which included finishing my BA and purchasing a house. The most empowering thing I ever did was to buy a house at age 30 and wouldn’t you know it, I closed on Genevieve’s birthday. A few years later, I married the right guy and we have two teenagers, a large dog, a gecko and a carnival goldfish with a will to live which defies logic. When I say that I am living beyond my wildest dreams, it is sincere. I didn’t dare to dream of the life I have now.

So here we were, having lunch…two miracles sitting at the table speaking our minds with the freedom of that invisible safety net of a friend who knows your history. Someone who saw you as a phoenix rising from the ashes…we both flew far, far away.

 

 

I Blame My White Hetero Nondenominational Privilege for this Rant

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I Blame My White Hetero Nondenominational Privilege for this Rant

‘Tis the season for getting offended. It seems like this snowballs each year and now we have an avalanche of nostalgia to get pissed off at. Maybe I’m just cranky because of the Shingles (don’t ask) but can we collectively dial it back a notch? My family life sucked as a kid so I’d like to cling to a few happy childhood memories that aren’t tainted by rapey winter songs, hetero normative propaganda and straight up bullying. Can we all just calm the f*ck down already (someone is reading this right now blaming my white hetero nondenominational privilege for this rant).

Happy Holidays is not code for f*ck off you Jesus loving freak. It means have a nice holiday whatever you celebrate or I’m not sure what day it is in December so I’m just going to cover my ass and say happy holidays. Happy New Year is the cousin of Happy Holidays, this is used when someone is afraid to say “Happy Holidays” because they don’t want to take an organic peppermint shank in the kidney while waiting in line at Whole Foods. Whole Foods is where the really progressive people go to over pay for groceries and hold meetings about the next thing to get offended about. They used to have meetings at Starbucks but those @ssholes ruined themselves when a SB in Philadelphia kicked a black dude out for being well, black.

Baby it’s Cold Outside is now a rape anthem. This song was on a slippery slope the last few years with the #MeToo movement pushing it right off the hetero normative cliff. Men, if you hint at liking this song, you might be a rapist. If you are a female who likes this song, feminists don’t know what to do with you. Personally my favorite version of this song is by the Holderness Family, Baby Just GO Outside.

 

 

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is chock full of f*cked up messaging. Can we agree that Rudolph’s parents were horrible? Because really, who makes their kid wear a strictly cosmetic nose prosthetic which compromises one’s ability to speak clearly and breath properly. Whenever I feel like a bad parent I just sigh and think well, at least I didn’t pull a Donner.And let’s be honest, Santa is kind of a jerk in that show. He shuns Rudolph until he finds a use for him then he’s all like “Hey Rudolph, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?!” If I rewrote this it would have a different ending.

Santa: (Head hung in shame, struggling to make eye contact, shoulders slumped) Hey Rudolph, I’ve done some soul searching and I realize I was wrong for shunning you over your nose.

Rudolph: (Standing on hind legs, arms crossed with a some serious side eye pointed at Santa): Um, hmmm.

Santa: (starts to sway nervously from side to side) You know the weather forecast is looking pretty grim for Christmas Eve…you know, that nose of yours could help cut through the fog. Would you like to be the lead reindeer?

Rudolph: (Still standing on hind legs, one leg gets placed on his hip with a definite “Oh no you didn’t” air about him) So let me get this straight fat man…you bench my red-nose-brown-ass, keep me off the team, talk sh*t to my parents about me and now you want me to save your ass. Ain’t that just like an old privileged white dude. Oh hell no.

Santa: (begging) Please Rudolph, we can’t have Christmas without you!

Rudolph: (Gets down on all fours and turns to walk away) You should have thought of that before you racist bastard. Stick a flashlight on Comet’s nose and figure it out. I got plans that night – me, Yukon and Hermey are starting a band we have a gig on Misfit Island, those are my people. I’m outa here.

 

 

 

Merry Whatever

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Merry Whatever

Here is my holiday rant in no particular order of importance. I started this list around Thanksgiving and it’s building momentum:

1. Turkey Log, Day 5 – For the love of Gawd make it stop. The delicious novelty of mashed potatoes in turkey soup wore off two days ago, even gravy can’t save us now.

2. Keep thinking of the people I didn’t see on Thanksgiving because they died (no punchline just the sad truth).

3. My teenage kids fought over how to decorate the Christmas tree. One kid wanted Trump-esque borders, the other kid wanted free-range decorations…I wanted to scream into a pillow in a dark room by myself. The husband busied himself in a different room (that man is a damn genius).

4. Took a day trip to NYC and one kid didn’t want to go so we let her stay home alone for 6 hours. She binge watched tv, face-timed her friends, ate Nutella on the couch and did zero chores. Slacker level: Master – Jealousy level: Master

5. Saturday I stayed in PJs all day long, as in the entire day. This isn’t a rant, it’s a confession. Apple-Tree (see above).

6. I am sick of the political pontificating in America. The mindset of – if you don’t agree with me, you are an ignorant racist person drowning in your own white privilege. The flip side is pro-life all the way but let’s use tear gas to keep brown moms and their kids out of ‘Murica. Any attempt at a rational conversation with extremists is exhausting and I am so f*cking tired.

7. Avoided political talk at Thanksgiving until the subject of the environment came up. No minds were changed, shocking.

8. Have to see all the same people again on Christmas Eve. Perhaps I’ll play “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on a continuous loop until everyone’s brain explodes onto the dinning room table. That’ll liven up the 7 fishes.

9. Went to three parties this weekend. There are 52 weekends each year – we get invited to about 7 parties in the entire year, half of them occur on the same weekend….why???!

10. I feel guilty for shopping on Amazon so much. The alternative is to go out to physical stores where people are…actual people (cue the horror music). I still go to independent bookstores to buy books. There aren’t many lines there because most people don’t read anymore.

11. My kid sucks the candy cane down into a sharp point and I visualize it being used as some kind of Christmas shank. (See item 3)

12. I want to do a reboot of Home Alone where I get to play the part of Kevin McCallister. I don’t mean making an actual movie…I just want to be home alone for a few hours, maybe a day…..two weeks, tops.

13. Went to a party last weekend with my husband’s childhood friends. Three hours in they started to drunk order stuff from Amazon on the host’s Alexa. I can’t wait to see how Charlie accessorizes his new sequin dress.

14. I attempted to make Christmas cookies to bring to a friend’s house. I made the rookie mistake of putting the cookies in plastic containers before they cooled properly. My daughter (AKA: Peppermint Shank) made a valiant effort at trying to pry the clumps apart alas, it was not to be. So I tossed the chunks of cookie into a bowl of melted chocolate and then sprinkled the crushed candy cane bits on top of the mess because this chick doesn’t throw out butter and cocoa just for being ugly.

Merry Whatever.

 

 

 

 

That’s Not Appropriate

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That’s Not Appropriate

Recently the hubs and I went to a holiday party. A majority of the party was a group of friends known as the car guys and their wives. The car guys met through their love of cars and somehow, despite this seemingly shallow connection, have created meaningful friendships.

For a handful of years we have socialized  – parties, annual beach getaways, vacations and weddings. It’s an interesting group of friends (the book writes itself). This party is one of the group traditions. There is always an “adult” gift exchange, some naughty variation of the white elephant. I always aim for funny with potential for mildly offensive, it’s my comfort zone. I brought a “People of Walmart” desk calendar, who wouldn’t love that! I also brought a book with stickers for adulting.

The sticker book is a bit of a rub because I was actively brainstorming this idea a few years ago. I got sick of sewing (OK my father in-law sewed) badges on my daughter’s brownie sash. Throughout the process (basically, when I had to safety pin badges on 3 minutes before an event, because, that’s what I do) I would think, damn there should be adulting badges. But badges are such @ssholes with their need to be sewn on, they’re a bit of a commitment. Badges are the tattoo of the sewing world. No, I thought to myself, stickers would be better – cheaper, less hassle. Wouldn’t you know, someone else thought it was a good idea and bippity, boppity, boop – –

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Available here – Adulted Sticker Book

So back to the party. The hubs and I brought two gifts – the People of Walmart desk calendar and the adult sticker book. Oh and the party had a plaid theme. Most of the guys looked like lumberjack wannabes wearing some variation of red & black checkered shirts. The ladies hit Victoria’s Secret hard and got the same pattern in sexy PJs. I wore normal clothes with a plaid scarf because I’m a chicken sh*t. I tried to find something plaid, I really did. I ordered a plaid skirt from Amazon and honestly, when I looked at it, I heard the sound of bagpipes in my mind, I couldn’t pull it off.

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Sketch by Lisa McMillen http://www.cicalisadesigns.com/

The sad part is I didn’t even win the “Least Festive” category (oh yes there are contests too). Some b*tch in a pink sweater dress won. I can’t even win at losing. Hey wait, I think that means I did win at losing. Screw you pink dress lady, I’m a bigger loser than you. I feel better now.

Back to the gift exchange. It was some variation of a white elephant except there was a board and you had to pull instructions from it…for example, find a brunette and exchange gifts. This was confusing to me because I have highlights, am I blonde or brunette? I don’t freaking’ know anymore, the bleach has gotten to me. So I went up to some lady who looked like Velma Dinkley (she may have been wearing a pink sweater dress, the details are fuzzy, like that damn dress) and exchanged gifts. Did I mention that I did this out of turn and it was completely inappropriate? Oh and I’m the sober one at these events which makes it all the more laughable.

I slithered back into the kitchen after that awkward moment and Shelly (wife of a car guy) says “keep that bag, don’t let them get it.” So I basically hid in the kitchen area with a few of the guests, protecting my gift like a momma bear with her cub.

At the end of the exchange we all opened our gifts. Shelly gifted us with “marital aids” which would have been the highlight gift of the evening if this didn’t show up. It was a really cute bottle holder, dressed like Santa. It looked innocent enough, sigh.

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Crocheted Santa Bottle Holder…what could possibly go wrong?

Oh My!!! Inside was something I had never seen before, I didn’t know products like this existed. I’m not a prude. I’ve had a Brazilian Wax or two in my day but (butt) really…I don’t even want to go to the trouble of whitening my teeth.

 

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The End.

 

 

Farewell 41

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Farewell 41

The letter that George HW Bush left for Bill Clinton is welcoming and classy. Even if you disagreed with the politics of President Bush, he was a good man who served his country well. Seeing this letter on social media made me wonder what kind of letter will Trump leave for his replacement?

So many things to ponder…

  • Will he spell collusion correctly?
  • How many times will he mention HRC directly or indirectly?
  • How many times will “great” be used?
  • Will it be in crayon?
  • Handwritten or typed?
  • How many times will he mention Obama and what a lousy job he did?
  • Will he be writing it from a prison cell or a golf course?
  • Will he skip the letter altogether and just set the desk on fire on his way out?
  • Will he shock us all with acrostic poem which spells out P-U-T-I-N.
  • Will there be mention of “Big” (dare I say HUGE) shoes to fill and how that corresponds to foot size and other dimensions I’d rather not think about.

Guess we will have to wait and see.

Writing Prompts

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Writing Prompts

When you feel vulnerable everything is a writing prompt. Sometimes the thoughts just swirl in my head, marinating until they become a somewhat tasty morsel that spills onto the screen. Not enough for a meal but, with any luck it leaves you hungry for more. Most times though, those prompts just wither on the mental vine. Here are some seeds that are lying on the bare ground, waiting for neglect or nurture to determine their fate.

Backstage Pass

My father is in the hospital again. He’s been in several times this year for various illnesses. We aren’t close and that’s not likely to change. He was out of my life from when I was 9 until sometime in my 30s. Too late for strangers with nothing in common to cling to – I say that with sadness, not hostility. We’ve both made attempts to bridge the enormous obvious gap, we just haven’t found the right the platform.

I find out about his health via group texts from his longtime partner. She’s devoted to him and very kind, which is comforting. It’s just awkward. The man had 7 kids from two marriages. I’m the first born but last in the pecking order. When I do get informed, it’s like having a backstage pass for an act you don’t know.

What’s Normal?

My kids recently went back to school and I feel myself being consumed by my own anxiety for them. I’m outing myself in the hopes that it will get me to ease up a bit. I have two teenagers and I can’t help myself, I think of what I was doing at their ages. Then I wonder, is it normal for parents to do this? If you’re a parent do you reflect on what you were doing when you were the same age as your child? Seriously, this is not a rhetorical question, I don’t know what’s normal.

For the Ladies

You ever get your period and think “Oh that makes sense” as you flashback to the night before when you ate half a chocolate cake and contemplated life with a new identity.

Hospice

A friend asked me how I deal with the mental mind f*ck of caring for people on hospice. This is what I wrote to him:

Hospice is a weird thing. I think what draws me in is the lack of bullsh*t. The small stuff and pettiness that most humans get tangled in tends to fade away when someone has a newfound awareness of how finite our time is here. I appreciate that level awareness and honesty and I get into a – do the next right thing modus operandi. It’s more difficult with people you know versus volunteering for strangers. I’m pretty good at compartmentalizing though, one of the benefits of a dysfunctional upbringing.

There is also a curiosity that pulls me in. I kind of want to know what it’s like at the end of life – I mean, we’re all going to die one day, yet people rarely discuss it. Or maybe my twisted brain thinks…if I am a witness and a helper for so many at the end of their lives, perhaps I’ll be granted a swift departure when my time comes. I don’t want to be subjected to weeks or months of Depends and really dry, chapped lips. So basically what I’m saying is….there is no way to delay the existential head f*ck, you just have to lean into that motherf*cker.

 

 

 

*Featured image used via agreement with 123rf.com image is Copyright of Sila Tiptanatoranin

 

It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

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It’s Wine O’Clock Somewhere!

It’s Wine O’Clock somewhere…or maybe it’s Weed O’Clock, Sex O’Clock, Sugar O’Clock, or some other O’Clock I have not yet imagined. Our collective casualness with dependency is adorable isn’t it? I mean we all need a little somethin’ somethin’ to get through the day, right? I may ruffle some feathers and bunch some panties with this post.

Perhaps I’m sensitive to the topic…after all I was raised by an alcoholic mother (you may now insert all of your preconceived notions about me into your brain) and found myself in rehab at age 15 (insert more of those notions) and I’ve been sober ever since (perhaps that one was unexpected). I have a good grip on the subject of alcoholism, mostly through sober observation. I’m way past the zealot phase of recovery and I have many friends that are social drinkers. I have not been hiding in a sober closet for the last 35 years. That said the “Mommy Juice” culture is getting out of hand.

I recently got invited to a breakfast with other parents who plan to celebrate the first day of school by day drinking the minute their precious kids get on the bus. Mimosas at the country deli, won’t that be fun! Look spiked orange juice, so clever. The festivities start at 7:30am, I’ll pass. I hope they have a designated driver, Uber is scarce in these parts. I wonder if these parents will still be lit later that day, driving through car line which is a cluster f*ck without inebriated drivers.

Do your teens and tweens see these pro drinking posts? Are you buying them beer so you can be the cool parent? When is enough enough or perhaps too much…what example are you setting for formative minds? I know I sound like a cranky Puritan. Truth is I’ve joked about alcohol myself especially when asked why I don’t drink. “My gene pool is polluted” is one of my usual snarky responses. It sounds cooler than the real explanation – I made bad decisions and put myself and others in harm’s way when I drank. And I do have a sense of humor (pinky promise). A few weeks ago I got a good friend a “Shut Up Liver, You’re Fine!” t-shirt to celebrate her birthday. Hmm, I may be part of the problem.

I think my breaking point was the purse that markets itself as a wine pouch. Let’s all hold hands and recite the Serenity Prayer for this gem –

Wine Purses

If you need a purse to carry your medicine water,  perhaps things have gotten a tad out of hand. Look at it this way – substitute green beans for wine, does the behavior still make sense? Are you stashing green beans in different areas of your house for a quick bite when no one is looking? Are you stuffing your face with them in the parking lot before walking into the board meeting, the presentation, the PTA gathering? Are you disappointed when your friends decline green beans because they just can’t take another bite and they need to drive home? Have you recently eaten too many green beans at a public event and struggled the next day with a hangover and the shame of not knowing what happened? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a problem with green beans. Just some food for thought.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Through agreement with 123RF Limited

Image ID : 44357768
Media Type : Photography
Copyright : belchonock  (Follow)